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Apple's Rumored Tablet Has a Surprise Competitor

If Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) does indeed go through with delivery of a long-rumored tablet – jokingly called the iPad on some blogs – it will have a most unlikely competitor: publisher Michael Arrington of the TechCrunch.com tech blog fame.

Arrington first acknowledged his plans for a hardware product in early July in the San Francisco Business Journal. The product, dubbed the "CrunchPad," is a touch-screen tablet designed for Web surfing and other Internet use and was designed with reader input.

Arrington didn't get into the technical details of his creation, but the Singapore-based newspaper The Straits Times did. It profiled a small start-up called Fusion Garage that developed the device for Arrington.

The CrunchPad sports a 12-inch screen, bigger than the rumored 10-inch screen of the iPad, and weighs 2.6 pounds (1.2kg). It runs a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, includes 1GB of RAM and has its own proprietary Web-centric browser operating system created by Fusion Garage, based on WebKit.

The entire system is touch-driven with a virtual keyboard for typing and a simple finger swipe for other actions. It comes with an accelerometer, one USB port, and built-in Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity. Its biggest omission is no storage, not even flash storage. The Straits Times projects the price at US$399.

This device also puts Arrington, a lawyer who founded TechCrunch in 2005, on a collision course with one of the industry's most creative and bare knuckles competitors, Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Even if the devices don't sell, the whole battle could prove entertaining.

Fusion Garage's founder, Rathakrishnan Chandrasekar, told the Times he was not worried about facing off against Apple. "It's two different market segments. The Apple tablet will likely be applications-driven. Ours will be Web-driven."

TechCrunch declined to comment for this story.

Tablets aren't new, so what's new?

Tablet PCs/devices have a long history of failure, dating back to the mid-1990s with the Eo and Go, neither of which went anywhere nor did any other wanna-be except in niche markets. If there is a successful tablet, it's probably the iPhone and iPod Touch and perhaps Amazon's Kindle, argues analyst Rob Enderle, president of Enderle Group.

"The question is how much bigger will these devices can get," Enderle told InternetNews.com. "Just because there hasn't been one that's succeeded doesn't mean there can't be one that's successful. But the market does not like this class of device, and there have been so many before you have to wonder if the market's jaded and thinks that this one will be lousy, too."

In order for a tablet to work, it will require some Apple-levels of stellar marketing and Enderle says he's not seeing that coming out of TechCrunch. "They are going to have to overcome this. If this is positioned like a tablet, because tablets have not been successful, I would think it could be almost impossible to sell. If it's positioned as something else, then it could be successful," he said.

The CrunchPad has some disadvantages, such as only online use and no local storage. "How do you use it on a plane? If you have a device like this, why wouldn't you want to use it as a reader?"

The iPad, or whatever it's called, will have the advantage of the App Store and a library of 65,000 applications ready to go. When App Store launched, Enderle noted that developers were told to make their apps scale up to larger screens, which showed Apple to be thinking ahead.

However, the iPad will likely use the same ARM processor in the iPod Touch and iPhone, which will not be as powerful as a 1.6Ghz Atom. "The CrunchPad should be more capable than the iPad because there are limitations on what the ARM processor can do," said Enderle.